In the Marx Brothers 1933 comedy Duck Soup, the small, bankrupt nation of Freedonia is threatened by its neighbour Sylvania. A rich widower, Mrs. Teasdale, refuses to finance the nations’ Treasury unless the cabinet installs her friend, Rufus T. Firefly, as President.
Rufus, played by Groucho Marx, turns out to be an agent for the Eureka Ammunition Company. “Think of it, gentlemen, an ammunition salesman dictating the policies of our peace-loving country!” cries a Freedonian cabinet member. Unperturbed, Firefly rhymes off the offenses he will prosecute as an authoritarian leader: smoking, chewing gum, and telling dirty jokes.
After the capture of a spy from Sylvania, Firefly whips the palace into a patriotic frenzy. “We’re going to war, we’re going to war!” the Freedonians roar in a song and dance number that finishes as a lily-white minstrel show: “They got guns / We got guns, All God’s chillun got guns! / I’m gonna walk all over the battlefield, / ‘Cause all God’s chillun got guns!” Newspaper headlines spin into view: “ARMIES MOBILIZE AS WAR CLOUDS GATHER!” and “AMNESIA HASTENS PREPARATIONS!”
It’s worth noting that American colonists once proposed “Fredonia” as an alternative designation for the United States, and that no less than 16 towns across the continental U.S. bear the name. So for the purposes of this column it may not be a huge thematic leap from Freedonia vs. Sylvania to Fredonia vs. Syria.
U.S. secretary of state John Kerry recently said the deaths in Damascus had the “signature of sarin,” inspiring Jon Stewart to flog “Signature of Sarin” perfume on the Daily Show. Tens of thousands of Syrians have already been killed. “So why now? The red line is apparently: You can’t use chemicals to kill your own people. You have to do it organically,” Stewart concluded.
Associated Press correspondent Dale Gavlak recently reported that rebels were likely responsible for the recent deaths in a Damascus suburb from chemical weapons, not the Syrian government of Bahar Al-Assad. Saudi intelligence allegedly supplied the weapons to Jabhat al-Nusra, a group affiliated with al-Qaida (the latter are apparently on NATO’s side for the Syrian insurgency; it’s all very confusing without a deep state spreadsheet). Bravak’s report, which didn’t fit the White House/mainstream news narrative, quickly spiralled down the Memory Hole.
I seem to recall a previous dustup over weapons of mass destruction, involving another mustached dictator. Not Hitler, but close. Coalition forces bombed his country either into the Stone Age or the waiting arms of Halliburton. Or was that Afghanistan? Libya, perhaps? It’s hard to keep the “rogue state” hit lists from the past 10 years straight; all I know is that the mustached guy’s weapons of mass destruction turned out to be as fictional as the Cheshire Cat’s smile, and hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed and injured in the wake of their supposed pursuit.
Hang on, I now remember former U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell testifying before the American Congress in 2003 about Iraqi WMDs. He said there was intelligence on mobile labs transporting chemical weapons, which he referred to as “Winnebagos of Death” with a straight face. Although an official British investigation concluded later they were probably weather balloon platforms, Powell’s Powerpoint tapdance was all Congress needed to sign off on another make-work program for the military-industrial complex. It’s hard to believe the Kerry/Obama routine isn’t a return engagement.
In the words of the baseball player Yogi Berra, “it’s like déjà vu all over again” — perhaps a Beltway outbreak of nostalgia for the Bush years, cheered on by AIPAC lobbyists? Kerry says Assad must produce his chemical weapons to avoid an air strike. Putin says, hey Assad, why don’t you allow international weapons inspections? Assad says, OK, fine. Whoa, says Kerry, Assad can’t be trusted. Obama goes on TV and says lofty things about democracy and danger. Hail Freedonia! The global community watches, gobsmacked, at a farcical song and dance number worthy of Rufus T. Firefly.
“History repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce,” insisted the least funny Marx brother, Karl. Yet polls indicate most Americans are dead set against another misadventure in the Mideast, and the British parliament has already voted to keep out of the Duck Soup. Wise move; this time it looks like a nuke-friendly double feature, with a one-minute-to-midnight screening of Dr. Strangelove.
The Vancouver Courier, Sept. 13